A hunter, convicted and fined for leaving his two young children in his truck while he chased after wild pigs, has vowed to take them hunting again.
Michael Hutchins' half-hour hunt for two pigs in January turned into an eight-hour search for his two-year-old son, Michael Jr, who hopped out of the truck to go looking for his father and became lost.
The boy was found at 11.30pm that day by search and rescue volunteers. He was uninjured and curled up under scrub deep in the Kaingaroa Forest, near Murupara.
The incident had its sequel in Taupo District Court yesterday when Hutchins pleaded guilty to two charges of leaving a child unsupervised, and one charge of unlawful hunting.
Judge James Weir convicted and fined Hutchins $1200 plus costs. The charge of leaving a child unsupervised carried a maximum $2000 fine.
The court was told Hutchins had left his five-year-old daughter and his son in his truck beside the forest, near Haupapa Rd. They had crayons and colouring books, food and drink.
He came back 30 minutes later - with the pigs - to find his daughter had unclipped the boy from his seat belt and he had wandered off. Hutchins tried to find the boy but was unsuccessful.
He rang his wife, Esther, who called Hutchins' brother Rob, a policeman at Murupara, to alert search and rescue. Up to 46 police and volunteers helped in the search operation.
The boy was found almost three kilometres from where the truck had been parked.
Judge Weir told Hutchins his son could easily have died of exposure.
Outside court, Hutchins said the conviction had shocked him but would not stop him from taking his children hunting again.
"They love hunting but I wouldn't leave them in the truck alone again ... I'll take them along with me rain, hail, even if there are river crossings."
He said he had intended only to be gone five minutes. "My son is quite a tough, determined young boy and I think he undid the seatbelt himself.
"Hunting is a family sport and a lot of guys will go out hunting with their wife and kids.
"It's sad now that anyone who takes their kids hunting will think twice because they may be charged."
His children often played in paddocks near his Rerewhakaaitu house unsupervised, he said. Since the incident he had separated from his wife, left his job as a venison butcher and curtailed his hunting.
"I've still got my dogs, I'm just having a break."
Hutchins said his children were oblivious to his conviction. "I'll keep the news clipping and give it to my son on his 21st."
- The Dominion Post